Sante Fe offers an alternative perspective of aging. Our friend, George was a healthy 72 year-old when I met him in 2012. His dark long hair clustered around his face. He smiled regularly and was ready at any time for our hugs. His facial expression was animated and varied in emotion.
Paul knew George from the 70’s. They played together in the Ontario band, Perth County Conspiracy. They had a good chance to play music together while we visited and had lots of time to reminisce. George and I connected quickly and, through many conversations over the days we spent in Santa Fe, our connection went deep.
George is a master piano player. During our time he insisted on giving me several 20- minute piano lessons. It left me with great memories and lasting opportunity for growth.
“Put your fingers gently on the keys.” He instructed. “Then just let them dance. The empty space between your fingers and your wrist is what plays the notes. Let that beautiful space fill up with the music.”
George just wanted me to play. He models the playing of the black keys, the pentatonic scale. He demonstrates other options using the white keys. He urges me to just play. I do. By the end of each lesson, if I really allowed myself to let go and tune in to the flow of making music, I was able to create some nice sounds. I experienced a sense of accomplishment and a recognition of my musical self.
I’m not surprised. I know I can learn anything that I want to learn. Learning requires hope. When I feel successful at what I am attempting, I persevere. Once I tap in to my own skills, it is easy to continue to believe in my own creative expression. The knowledge that I can sit down at a piano and play music is exciting!!!
Dr. Rick Hanson, a Buddhist practitioner and neuroscientist speaks prolifically about “hardwiring our brains for happiness”. Through deliberate awareness and mindful meditation we are able to actually change the physical configuration of our brain connections to accommodate new learning.
Rick refers to the acronym H.E.A.L. as a means to learn through positive experiences that rewire and change brain synapses, helping to modify our attitudes and behaviours and create a happier existence. Learning requires, first, Having an experience. That might be facilitated by a conversation, reading an article, seeing a movie, competing in a race, or even simply listening to a lecture. Being aware of having the experience and welcoming the newness of it helps the learner find the joy.
Enjoying the learning experience helps to make it a positive one and inspires the learner to ‘stick to it’ longer. The more we practise new information, the more apt we will be to remember it.
The ‘A’ stands for Absorb. Integrating the new information into our being with multiple sensory stimulus, helps us to find relevancy and reminds us where the information can be accessed when needed.
During my Yoga practise, I make sure to intermittently spend moments in Sivasana so that the postures I have been practising will become integrated into my body. Some people call that ‘muscle memory’. It helps me transfer my practise into my daily life. How can I become more flexible in my attitudes? What do I need to do to stretch my perspectives more? Where in my life do I require more openness and clarity? Where can I find simple peacefulness and relaxation, even in the midst of an active and rich life.
This brings us to the ‘L’ in H.E.A.L. which stands for Link. Applying the new learning in different ways helps connect it physically to information we already have in our brain and the new learning becomes personal.
George has passed away since I met him, and I remember him with great love and admiration. And whenever I am learning something new, or even getting better at something old, I try to remember to simply “put my fingers on the keys, listen to the spaces in between the notes, and just let them dance”.